Preview of Unsaid Six: The Language of Humming and Dust, by Robert Kloss

 

 

 

 

How the boy who was now nearly a man woke inside a tavern on the outskirts of town. How the beams hung low and the taller men stooped while they drank and smoked. How the air seemed entirely of blue smoke and how even when all other eyes watered the boy’s eyes did not. How the boy washed dishes for room and board and how he lay on his cot in his room above the tavern. How the vacant roads hummed with the vibrations of the cooling earth, of cement cracking and expanding. How the shadows along his ceiling were no longer the shadows of men but simply the world moving and developing on its own.

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In those days you felt good about yourself when you coughed blood into a handkerchief. The ladies gazed at you in new ways. Even healthy boys gnawed their own tongues hoping to make the right impression—

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How this woman who owned the tavern was crisp and bronzed. How she stripped free of her robe before him and how she stood buxom and white in the chest. How she sunbathed topless on her front lawn, chest pressed downward. Before her, an upside down paperback novel, Love in the Boudoir, opened to a random page. How the boy watched, lightheaded, as she lay cracking and ever more golden on her beach towel, kicking her feet absently. Her pink painted toenails. How she drank her Bloody Mary through a straw and when she smiled her teeth seemed thick with blood. Her round Hollywood sunglasses and how she spoke to the boy while he washed dishes or swept up after the yellow lights dimmed and the customers shuffled home. “You remind me of my husband,” she told the boy. “God rest his soul. Wherever his soul is.” Later how she fixed the boy a Bloody Mary and how his head swam as he gulped it. How she said, “Do you believe in such a concept as a soul, Henry?” How the boy smiled and how he could not feel his face. “You don’t mind if I call you Henry, do you? Of course not. How young we were. How free. Live it up while you can Henry. Once it is gone you can’t get it back. One day you are free and easy and young and the next you’re just a dumpy old woman like me.” How she smiled and waited for the boy to contradict her. How she laughed gaily and said, “You’re too kind, Henry, too kind,” after he said nothing.

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How the daughter was slender in ways the mother was not slender. How her long arms were not covered in the same flesh as the mother was covered, clear of cracks and ruin and how she seemed of polished ivory, save for bursts of freckles. Now the boy stood in his apron, watching how the sun lit her neck, the few wisps of hair and how they glowed. How the daughter played tennis in a white skirt and white visor. Her white stockings pulled to the nubs of her knees and how she waited, pacing and bouncing a tennis ball against the back porch, and how she giggled and waved when her friends arrived in tennis whites, jammed and piled into the back of a convertible car. How the boy watched in his apron through the fogged glass of the kitchen. How she knew the names of her friends and how she recited these names Dan Dave Dusty Donny Denis Eli Eric Ernie and how her thin hands moved as she spoke and how he saw them each as their names became skin and hair. The clothing they took on. The sneers. How the boy stood in his apron watching her and how the mother watched the boy as his eyes grew dull and remote.

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How in the silence of a small town all sounds carry. How the mother found the boy and the daughter on the back steps of the tavern. How the girl and her legs, bare and white, and how natural the boy’s hand seemed on her knee. How she heard him say words like “love” and “diphtheria.” How these words worked, awkward upon his lips and how the mother knew he had never said them before.

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How the woman invited the boy into her home for lemonade and fig cookies, the glass half filled with vodka and how the boy’s face numbed. How she sat alongside him on the davenport and, in her hands, the wedding album. How she flipped through the pages murmuring, “The spitting image.” How young the woman was, in white lace. And how young the husband was, bearded and tall. How they wore black bandanas over their faces while the wedding party wore gasmasks. How the ring bearer and flower girl, in gasmasks, and later in the album, “So many children,” the woman said, of these children in caskets, in lace gowns, their wispy white hairs, eyes open, soft pink lips slightly parted—

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How in the days the front page headline contained what house burned or what barn or what city was now razed or being razed. If not the marching of armies then the marching of time, if not the will of God then the hand of roving bands of firebugs. These roving bands and how we knew them by their handkerchiefs, the man said. We knew them by their black hands, their gasoline canisters.

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Now the pink granite tombstone and how it was chiseled, Henry Filmount: Beloved Father, Sturdy Husband. How he died at twenty-eight and how they found him naked and bloated and choking in the street. How the girl snapped her gum and said, “Daddy let me clean these weeds for you,” and how she bent over to pull those dandelions clotting the edges of his memorial. How the boy watched her figure, her skirt gathered and un-gathered. How the mother watched the boy as he watched. How she said loudly, “I would like to say some words,” and she spoke for some while about the unique and heavenly love she shared with this man, how his disability had hindered them, how, “I knew he was frail from the first moment, when doubled over, coughing blood into a silk handkerchief,” and yet they had persevered, how they built their house and bar with planks of wood and bricks, how their hands bled in the firelight, how they cooked fish over open fires and how they made love—how the daughter groaned and the woman raised her hand before lowering finally and continuing, “But Henry, a woman grows old and lonely. Henry, a woman is not a piece of fruit to wither and be eaten by birds. Henry my darling—” and how she could no longer speak, how the sobs rose and welled and now overcame her. How she pressed her face into the boy’s chest and sobbed. How her fingernails dug into his shoulders. How the boy gazed beyond the shoulder of the woman, to the trees that lingered along the horizon. How their limbs seemed fled of birds and leaves. How your fires and smoke seemed lit anew, and how the boy no longer cared. How all the world seemed silent and immune save this aging woman and her tears soaking his apron.

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In those days we knew our neighbors by the way they coughed, and the names they forgot. How they watched their children, growing and roving through our yards, their bandanas and gasmasks, loose and heavy.

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How the boy and the girl found two headless lambs in a field behind the town, as if laid out as gifts. How the girl screamed and the boy held her close. How small and taut she seemed, fit within his arms and the taste of her neck, her earlobes. How the boy and girl lay on their backs some distance in the field beyond, in the silence of the other, and how they waited, although the girl did not know until the boy sat up and said, “Look!” and how the eyes, yellow and slit, along the tall grasses of the field.

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How the man said, In those days, these sisters, my mother, and how their dresses caught fire, how we learned that cotton burns as if soaked with gasoline. Yes, how I often found them as if tarred, sprawled in their pantries, on front lawns.

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How the boy gazed out his window rather than sleep. The cracking and expanding street and behind him, the girl on his cot, the blurred curve of her figure, and how she lay covered only in the too thin sheets, translucent with fluids. How she said, “I think I had a brother. I remember a brother. I remember mother saying his name. Mother and how she loved him, how we found her sobbing and burning photographs in the bathroom sink.” Later, how the daughter said, “I remember this little boy crying. How he was still alive when they put him in the box. How they wanted to know if it fit and how he begged them not to do it. I remember my mother saying he would be all right, how it was only a game.”

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The man gestured to the forest where the edge of your creation moaned and seethed. There you built the factory to build our fires and disease.

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Always the husband now, returned, and how he leaned on the boy and pressed against the boy, smelling of leather and dust. How he
smoked cigarettes in a chair, butts smoldering through the shag carpet. Always the husband now and how his eyes all but devoured by beetles and worms and the conditions of time. Always the husband and how he moved his mouth to speak and how only a humming sounded. This husband now and how his lips became sodden and glistening at his daughter sunbathing on the lawn. How he lay alongside his daughter and how she had grown these years, how he fondled her hair, kissed at her neck. How the boy watched, his face red and numb. This husband now and how he smashed all portraits hanging from his wife’s walls, how he spat dust into the food and urinated into the soup. This husband and how he sat at the foot of his wife’s bed while she masturbated and moaned the name of the boy. Always this husband from doorways and shadows, always this husband, speaking the language of humming and dust, and how his widow answered him by turning on fans, and by closing the windows.

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How the light bent along the horizon and—

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This husband of the soil and how he pressed a pillow against the boy’s face. How beneath the pressure, the boy thrashed and moaned. How the husband tried on the boy’s shirts and pants and how none of them fit, how the seams burst apart and how they dripped with soil and mucus. How the woman touched the stains and asked the boy if he had been gardening. How the man slept in the boy’s bed and how the sheets, stained with dirt, mashed moss and worms. How the husband read The Encyclopedia of Medicine from the boy’s shelf and how all the words seemed smears of ink and clotted with the images of men shaved and pale, their ribs bulged and strained against impossible skin, their open black eyes and how they lay, piled and strewn. How the husband knew well what these men had become.

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How in those days men took it upon themselves to pull on masks and light torches, how they banded together, neighborhood by neighborhood, and they boarded up and burned those infected houses.

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How the boy sat on the back porch with the daughter while the mother wept and wailed inside the house. How this world was no longer her own. How the woman wept and took pills and drank vodka. How she masturbated and how she screamed out the window to the boy, “This is for you!” How the dead husband leaned over his widow, how he blew on her ear, how he caressed her neck. How she giggled and sighed while, outside, the boy held the daughter. How frail the daughter seemed now, how red her eyes, her lips of salt and how thin her hair, white and blue with moonlight, her brow rested against his apron. How the dead husband dragged his wife past where they sat, the moaning bulge of a canvas sack, and how the daughter pretended not to see. How the daughter said, “She’s just—” and how she sputtered. “I just don’t—how she can—she’s always—” How the boy said, “Someday you will do the same. But all of this,” and the boy gestured to the town around them, “will be gone by then.”

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How these hallways and the huddling of children, their blood-spattered handkerchiefs, their skin cracked and blackened. How the sky blazed and opened into an enormous eye and those almost dead were lit into nothing. How new colors were born in the flash of the final moment. How this light was the most beautiful light we had ever seen.

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How a light flashed and the horizon rumbled with animals. How the boy held the daughter on the back porch and how in this moment he knew what he had lost a thousand years before, and how only now did he ache for what had been. How the sky opened and hummed and the boy knew enough to say with his final sounds, “I love you” rather than what he knew, “I should have killed them.” How she could not hear within the sky broken into lights and impossible colors. How their ears popped and clogged with pus and they were forced to imagine the impossible roar. How the street yawned and expanded with vibrations. How a doe, lost and smoking, skittered past on the street before them. How the girl’s chest expanded with the life to come. How the boy held the daughter within the smoke and light of a thousand, thousand candles, as the smoldering remains of feathers and trees fell about them as if confetti from a long ago parade.

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How there is no fear in the moment before you disappear. How this daughter fled now into the particles within.


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